Sep 28

The Cup of Truth: A Life Lesson From Caramel Corn

by Hannah Holt »


caramel corn

Caramel corn is one of our favorite fall snacks. It’s crunchy and oh so delicious! It’s easy to make, too, as long as you have a Cup of Truth nearby.

What’s a Cup of Truth?

It’s simple. I keep a cup of ice water on the counter next to my caramel pot. When I think the caramel is finished I take a small spoonful of syrup and drop it into the ice water (aka: Cup of Truth). The water cools the molten caramel quickly, so I can test to see if it’s reached the perfect hardness.

Removing the caramel from the heat too soon turns it into a sticky mess. This type of caramel corn will dislodge dental fillings!

Removing the caramel too late will burn it. YUCK.

There’s a small window of caramel perfection. Hence the need for a Cup of Truth.

cup of truth

My kids all hang out around the Cup-o-Truth because they like sneaking cool bits of caramel before the full batch is ready. While they linger for sweet snitches, I talk to them about feelings and stuff. I say, feelings can be like a pot of boiling caramel.

Sometimes someone does something so mean it makes you bubble with rage. You might even want to spill your thoughts right then and there.

But friendships can been ruined unnecessarily that way…and dental fillings, too.

How do you know if feelings are truth or just heat-of-the-moment steam?

Put them in the Cup of Truth.

  • take a breath
  • take a walk
  • sleep on it
  • put it on ice

Once feelings have cooled, it’s easier to see what (if anything) needs to be discussed. Then you can speak with confidence, knowing the words will be the right words. (And not a sticky mess.)

Okay, now who’s hungry?

Carmel Popcorn

1 cup butter

2 cups brown sugar

½ cup light corn syrup

1 tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla

5 quarts popped popcorn

  1. Melt butter in a thick bottomed pot on low heat.

  2. Add the sugar, corn syrup, and salt to the pot. Then increase the heat to medium and stir until boiling.

  3. Boil for about four minutes without stirring. The caramel will resemble the color of a brown paper bag when finished. Check for hard crack readiness by spooning small amounts into a cup of ice water. The caramel should be crunchy (not squishy).

  4. Remove from heat and add the vanilla and soda. Mix well.

  5. Use a spoon to drizzle the popcorn with the hot caramel. Stir the popcorn with a spoon every few minutes until completely cool. This will keep it from clumping together.

  6. Enjoy!

Feb 10

The Funny Thing About Normal

by Hannah Holt »


The other night I ate dinner with a group of professional soccer players. Over grilled vegetables, one of them made the comment, “I’m not that athletic.”

Me: Um, you’re a professional soccer player. What do you mean you aren’t athletic?

Her: Well, for a professional soccer player…

Just to be clear here, this individual is a starter for one of the nation’s top teams. If she’s not athletic, I’m a pudding pop.

This exchange reminded me of an interview I heard on NPR with classical pianist Emanual Ax. Of his schooling, he said, “I was just a normal piano student.”

Peter Sagal: Normal piano students tend not to end up at Julliard has been my experience.

Emanual Ax: Well, maybe normal for Julliard.

Normal is a tricky beast. It’s a lie but also a gift. The lie part says, “You’re not that good, sucker.” But there’s a biological reason for self doubt and deprecation. That’s gift part: sensory gating.

Char sleep study 1

{My daughter in a University of Colorado study on infant sensory gating.}

Gating is how the brain filters out unimportant information. It’s why people living next to hospitals will eventually learn to sleep through ambulance sirens. But it’s also why professional pianists aren’t continually thinking, “OMG! I’m playing Rachmaninoff! Do you see my fingers? They’re like lightning!”

When the brain receives a signal it makes a snap decision: Is this new? Is it important? Is it dangerous? If the answer is no, the signal probably won’t get our conscious attention. Gating is good. People who can’t gate have trouble tuning out unimportant sights and/or sounds in their environment. They might also have trouble distinguishing between thoughts and reality.

Just imagine if every time we drove down the freeway all we could think was, “Holy! I’m sitting in a chair and travelling 65 MPH!!!”

It’d be impossible to drive. So the brain filters out the miracle of modern travel for most of us, and suddenly we are home without any recollection of driving there.

But sometimes gating goes too far. There is no joy in driving life on autopilot.

Lately, I’ve been working through a creative funk. Trying to break out of normal, I’ve been testing boundaries and trying new things. I wrote a novel in a new genre. I also started several new art projects using only canvas and embossing powder.

I wish I could say the results of these new projects are extraordinary. They aren’t. My new manuscript kinda stinks. And the embossing projects have been a lot of trial and error (mostly error).


Every time I work, I pick up new ways to improve. Expanding normal is a messy process. Sometimes I feel like I’m flying down the highway at 65 miles and hour. Other times, I’m stuck on the side of the road with a flat. However, I hope to come out of this funk with a stronger and bigger creative tool set.

The line between ordinary and extraordinary might not be as far as it feels.

After all, if my professional soccer player friend feels “not athletic” and Emanual Ax considers himself “average,” maybe all of us are unknowingly living über cool lives. Maybe the only thing standing in the way of us and this alternate universe of awesome is opening the gates and trying something new.

Extra ordinary

May 05

Bears Are Terrible People

by Hannah Holt »


Bear head

If you find a bear trapped in a forest and release it, the bear will probably eat you.

It’s nothing personal. It’s just what hungry bears do.

You see, bears don’t feel gratitude the way people do. They also can’t experience complex emotions like empathy…

…much like young children. Children don’t develop empathy until around age five to six. Even then it’s just the beginnings.

It’s not that three-year-olds don’t care about your feelings. Rather, like bears, they can’t.

Bears and Children Venn diagram2

It’s Not Personal

It might feel personal when a four-year-old yells, “I hate you, and Aunt Mildred hates you, too!”

Only, it’s not.

Actually, what the child means is, “I have learned by trying lots of different words that these particular words get a big response.”

Take another common phrase, “I wish you would die!” Here’s what it means by age:

Four-year-old: What’s death? Who knows?! I’m not even sure when next Wednesday is, but you go all crazy when I say this. It’s awesome and makes me feel powerful.

Eight-year-old: I understand death. I think. I don’t actually want you dead. I probably want you with me right now, but I’m frustrated and don’t know what else to say. These words distract both you and me from what is bothering us.

Sixteen-year-old: I understand it, and I mean it. However, the long-term reasoning center of my brain isn’t fully developed, so what I really mean is, “it’d be convenient for me if you didn’t exist at this moment.”

So when your sixteen-year-old daughter comes home and says she can’t imagine a future without her new boyfriend DJ Bonecrusher, it isn’t love talking. Rather, futures in general are a difficult thing for her (realistic ones anyway). BTW, I don’t recommend telling her this.

What Can You Do?

First, of all take a deep breath. You aren’t a bad parent because your child pushes boundaries. All children push boundaries. It’s in their job description.

Second, keep rules basic and age appropriate. The more simple the rule, the more likely it will be followed. “Don’t open the game closet,” is more likely to be followed than, “only get out one game at a time, and be sure to close the door behind you, and don’t let your little sisters play with the Monopoly pieces.”

Third, only set up rules you are willing to enforce 100% of the time. Rules enforced 99% of the time are only suggestions. You can only constantly enforce a few rules at a time. Choose wisely.

Fourth, don’t jump to nuclear with the consequences too early. There is no level above nuclear. If you play the nuclear card and it doesn’t work, you lose. Start with the most gentle consequence possible. You will probably need several (first, time out in the kitchen with me, then time out in your room by yourself, then I start taking away toys and privileges, etc, etc).

What Can Children Feel?

Children are capable of love, kindness, and cooperation. However, these are learned behaviors. Show them love and they will love. Tell them when they are kind, and they will be kind more often. Be consistent about enforcing boundaries and they won’t cross them after the six or eleventeenth try.

On the other hand, spanking and yelling will result in more hitting and shouting. Don’t show a child how painful biting is by biting them back. Remember, the child cannot feel empathy; however, they will parrot your behavior.

It takes creativity and energy to model positive behavior. This means you need to  take care of your own mental health. Ask for help. Reach out to other adults when you are feeling on the brink.

Momma Bear Speaks

It makes me feel growly when I hear adults say things like, “my children are monsters,” or “those children are bad!” Usually what these people mean is, “those children are horrible adults.” Children can be exhausting, strong willed, and frustrating, but they aren’t terrible, rotten, or ill willed. Children desperately need positive adults role models in their lives.

After all, without adults children might wander into the forest and make friends with bears. And that would be a true disaster because as we’ve already learned—bears are terrible people.


If you like this post, you might also like these books:

Children Make Terrible Pets

Children Make Terrible Pets, by Peter Brown

I Want My Hat Back

I Want My Hat Back, by John Klassen

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, by Mo Willems

Jan 28

Snatching the Moon

by Hannah Holt »


Yesterday evening felt like spring. The kids and I played in the backyard until the moon came up.

Just before I called everyone inside, my son wanted me to watch him pinch the moon. I caught this picture:

It inspired me to write this…


Last night I stole the moon

and hid it in my pocket.

I found the pathway leading home

and did my best to walk it.


But night was thick about my face.

I stumbled with each try.

So I returned my pocket-moon

to light me from the sky.


Have you ever caught the moon?

Sep 26

Paper Dolls for my Daughters

by Hannah Holt »


A few years ago, I was out collecting data for a mall redevelopment in Salt Lake City and had my headphones tuned into NPR. As I worked I heard part of Larry Summers’ infamous lecture on diversifying science and engineering.

At the time Mr. Summers was president of Harvard, and in his lecture he postulated that there aren’t as many women in science and engineering because of “issues of intrinsic aptitude” (or lack thereof). I found his remarks puzzling but finished my data collection and headed back to the office.

I’m an engineer, writer, and woman. I’m not an academic. However, I can tell you why there aren’t more women in science and engineering, and it has nothing to do with intrinsic aptitude.

It’s because being different is hard. It’s much easier falling in line with expectations.

When I told my darling grandmother I was majoring in engineering, she scolded me, “What?! So you can wear coveralls and crawl around in attics all day?”

At university, there were the occasional anonymous creepy notes. Once while working in the computer lab at 2 am, someone inside the lab hijacked my computer screen and started sending me updates about my personal appearance. I bought a bike, so I wouldn’t have to walk home alone in the dark.

Now I found engineering, the profession, to be mostly welcoming towards women. However, stupid people seem to gravitate towards minorities. On my second day of school, a tall boy walked up to me and said, “I don’t know why they let women into school here. It takes more spots away from men, who will be the bread winners after all.”

I believe in the power of words. Even false ideas said over and over again start sounding like truth. So we must give our daughters different words to live by.

Here are three stories to help them change the tune.


For a pdf copy of the engineering paper dolls click here.

For a pdf copy of the firefighter paper dolls click here.

For a pdf copy of the scientist paper dolls click here.

I made the dolls interchangeable. So if you want Barbara to be a firefighter or Leela to be a scientist, you can mix and match.

When I pitched the idea for this paper doll series on my Facebook Page, I received a tremendous response. I loved the range of suggestions for other non-traditional paper dolls. In the coming months, I plan to make more. In the mean time, if you have a career suggestion for my collection, please tell me in the comment section.